“Free Derry” corner
One of the most recognized symbols of resistance in the world, this was originally the gable end of a dilapidated building as seen on my “Derry/Londonderry” travel page. These words were painted on 5 January 1969 by John Casey. Casey got the idea from the Free Speech Movement’s protest in Berkeley, California in 1966 in which those activists had a placard that read, “You Are Now Entering Free Berkeley.” The British military tried many times to level this gable throughout the Troubles period but failed each time. The “UK Attractions” website considers this “the most famous and most visited political landmark in the world.”
While in Derry, I was told a story in which a road contractor had to realign Rossville Street right where the gable sits a few years ago. He brought his equipment to knock it down. Some of the locals protested but according to the plans, the new road had to go right where the gable was. They blocked his equipment but he was adamant that he do his job. Shortly thereafter, some men showed up, pulled the man to the side, spoke to him and he then immediately re-routed Rossville Street around both sides of the gable. They were not city politicians.
The Walled City
"Derry circa 1972"
An amazing place with an amazing history. From the 17th century all the way to today, Derry has seen it's share of pain, suffering and turmoil. The "Free Derry" gable seen here is at the south end of Rossville Street. At the north end is the intersection with Williams Street. In between are just a couple of blocks which witnessed the most tumultuous and horrific events of the period in Northern Ireland known as the "Troubles." Rossville Street is the heart of the area known as the Bogside and it was here that the "Battle of the Bogside" in 1969 and "Bloody Sunday" in 1972, as well as many other tragic events, occurred.
Derry circa 2009
Today the bombs and guns are silent. The people of the Bogside still struggle at times but have chosen to combat oppression through other means. They have not forgotten the past and are very open about sharing their most intimate and painful experiences. The Bogside has undergone a major facelift since the 1970's and appears to be a world away from the crumbling buildings, burned out cars and British armored vehicles that once were part of its landscape. The tranquility of the area is obvious and its welcoming environment had me feeling like I was strolling around my own neighborhood.
Derry or Londonderry?
Many people are confused as to the name of this city. Growing up, I thought that Derry and Londonderry were two separate cities.
The word Derry in Gaelic is actually "Doire" which means "oak grove." There was a monastery on the banks of the River Foyle which was referred to as Doire and was destroyed in the early 17th century. English and Scottish settlers moved in and built the city. To protect it, they constructed the walls and named it "Londonderry" in honor of the London merchants whose contributions assisted in its construction. Irish nationalists never ceased referring to it as Derry. In 1926, many nationalists felt that the city would be incorporated into the Republic of Ireland. When it wasn't, the term "Londonderry" became increasingly more irritating to them. When the Troubles began in earnest in the 1960's, how you referenced the city was evidence of whose side you were on during the struggle. "Derry" was the term of nationalist republicans who were mostly Roman Catholic. "Londonderry" was reserved for the unionist/loyalist Protestants. Today, many people like to take a neutral ground and refer to it as "The Walled City" or, "The Maiden City" (so named due to it not being breached during the siege of 1689).
In 1984 the city council passed a resolution changing their name to the "Derry City Council." In 2006, the city council then attempted to change the actual name of the city to "Derry." The motion wound up going to the High Court of Northern Ireland, which rejected the resolution. The official name continues to be "Londonderry."
For additional photos, both past and present of Derry, as well as a pictorial history of Bloody Sunday, see Northern Ireland (United Kingdom) 2009